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A Bright Sight in the Din of LA Lights

Griffith Observatory before 2002 renovation
Griffith Observatory before 2002 renovation

Due to Downtown's city lights and Los Angeles' industrial smog covering the sky, it is almost impossible to see the stars at night. One of the greatest places to visit in LA is the Griffith Park Observatory. Set 1,134ft above sea level, it provides a view of un-urbanized land while allowing an unobstructed view of the city. Here, we can see the juxtaposition between the city and what it can look like without houses and skyscrapers. Closed off for renovation from 2002 to 2006, the space has been expanded to include more parking space and public rest rooms for tourists. It is a great place to visit because it is open until late 10p.m.

After a slight hike up a hill, the first thing you see before the entrance of a three dome structure, is a monument dedicated to the fathers of Science, one of whom is Galileo. Upon entering the Observatory, we are greeted by the sight of a giant pendulum swinging from a thin 40ft wire above a pit with a 240 lbs. metal ball attached to the bottom. It is a sight that never stops to stir an awe of wonderment from pilgrims who makes the trip. Seems boring right? Watching a ball swing from one side to the other in excruciatingly slow circles? For me, the sight never gets old. I have often found myself drawn to the pendulum, and often times, lost myself in its slow, vacillating grace. There is something magnetic about it. The pendulum swings on an axis parallel to the Earth's rotation. Every time in knocks down a domino piece, it signals the passing of one turn (approx. 7mins.). At the end of the day, it resets itself and starts all over again. I once caught myself lost in the hypnotic motion for over 2 hours, just watching it swing back and forth. The diagram illustrates the passing of time, Earth's gravitational pull and the directional spin of Earth's axis.

A visit to the Observatory can be both fun and educational because it is an interactive space for kids and adults to explore different planets. It is where you can learn about stars, meteors and anything to do with space. You can read about famous astronomical events, look through telescopes, play with the buttons and dials, or go into the multiple theaters to watch the featured star gazing show. Furthermore, there is a showing every hour where you can watch the history of the Observatory unfold--its purpose, architecture, the renovation, as well as new installations. In addition to the great view and fresh air, you may also choose to go hiking on one of its famous trails. There are trails that lead to the Hollywood sign (approx. 2hrs.) or you can just explore the landscape of Los Angeles.

Speaking of the Hollywood sign, one of the most famous movies shot here was the knife fight in James Dean's Rebel Without a Cause. You can still see some of the original features: the white colonnades, the three dome structures, and the different tiers viewed from the bottom. In addition, you can see the lecture of the end and birth of stars Dean walks into in the newly named Samuel Oschin Planetarium. Although many features had been added to the Observatory, many things remained the same.

If nothing else, the Observatory is a great place to lose yourself in the monotony of time. There is plenty of open space, wind, and time to waste lazing around in the patio area, which had recently been installed with glass walls to allow a view of the Los Angeles basin while warding off the strong mountainous winds. The Observatory is opened from Tuesday to Sunday from 12noon to 10p.m. on weekdays and 10a.m. to 10p.m. on weekend. It is closed on all Mondays and on holidays. Check the website for more information on hours and events. The admission and parking are both FREE with the exception of show tickets you may purchase near the entrance at the ticket counter.

Griffith Observatory is located at:
2800 East Observatory Road
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(213) 473-0800
(323) 661-8269 TTY (hearing impaired)

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